I’ve been playing MTG off and on (mostly off) since 1997; you can read more of my story on that here. I am not a particularly high-level player, mostly an FNMer. I don’t play PTQs, but if there’s a GP within driving distance, I’ll go. (Exception: I am flying to Las Vegas for the Modern Masters GP.) Since there was a GP in my own back yard, of course I was happy to sign up. This, however, is not really my story.
This is Simon’s story. He’s 12 years old and has been coming with me to FNMs and other events at my local store since New Phyrexia; his first FNM deck was Tempered Steel, which is of course now one of his all-time favorite decks. He only played Standard for a while, but eventually started to come to drafts as well. Almost all his Sealed experience comes from pre-releases; Innistrad was his first one of those. We also play sealed at home whenever we buy a box or win packs.
Simon’s favorite thing to do outside Magic is play lacrosse. He was the defensive captain for his team this year, and on the same Sunday as the GP was the first day of summer lacrosse camp for him. I figured this wasn’t really going to be a problem, after all, what 12-year-old makes day 2 of a Limited GP? (Twitter later told me that this has actually happened before; a kid in Seattle Day 2’d a GP there that was INN/DKA.)
I had Friday afternoon off so we went up early for side events. PV had tweeted that he really liked the GP Houston playmats, so I took a picture of Simon with his playmat and tweeted it to PV. Here’s Simon:
The hat will re-appear in the story later.
We played in the Friday Grand Melee, which was very silly but was also much fun. Simon also played a Standard grinder but lost in the second round in game 3 to Jund. The other event of note on Friday was a bunch of pros did a Modern Masters draft. Simon went over and watched some of it and also spoke to several of them. He talked more to Reid Duke than anyone else, Reid was very friendly and Simon was very pleased he got to meet some pros and see them play.
He brought some cards with him on Saturday that he hoped to get signed by his favorite pros. For the player meeting and deck registration, we were seated near Sam Black, and Simon just loves Sam’s “Walking Dead” Legacy deck, and Sam was nice enough to sign a playset of Bloodghasts for Simon.
So, we got our pools and built. I won’t bother with my pool because this isn’t about me. It turns out of you’re going to make day 2 of a GP, it helps to have a good pool to start with. Here is the deck Simon ended up registering:
Simon’s Day 1 GP Houston Deck
I won’t go into great detail on the individual matches, partly because he doesn’t remember all the details and partly because I want to stay more on the big picture.
Simon won round 1 fairly easily with Snare Squad as his MVP.
He lost round 2 to turn 2 Pack Rat both games. He was understandably kind of miffed about that. However, I think it was after this round that we spotted Brian Kibler, Simon’s favorite pro, and Simon got Brian to sign a Knight of the Reliquary, so Simon was pleased about that.
In round 3, Simon lost the third game to Angel of Serenity. But not to hard-cast Angel. Simon had used Mind Rot in the first few turns, and his opponent discarded the Angel. His opponent had ramped with a Cluestone and got back Angel with Obzedat’s Aid, blanking Simon’s entire team.
Simon was a little down after this, clearly expecting to lose the next round and drop, so we had a little pep talk. I reminded him that his deck was really good, and that if he played without mistakes and let the deck do the work, he could come back and still do OK. I also told him that yes, it’s a big event, but it’s still just a Magic tournament and to just play like he does at our local store and not think about that. He seemed to perk up a little after that and went to battle in round 4.
He won round 4 2-0, said he curved out and just ran his opponent over.
I should note this was Simon’s first Limited tournament that required decklists. In round 5, Simon got deck checked and got a game loss for a mis-registration. However, his opponent for the round did not show up (which I think will be referred to as “pulling a Ben Stark”—sorry, Ben—for the next while), so I think this went on the books as a 2-1 win. If you’re going to get a game loss for deck registration, that was the time to do it.
Round 6 Simon said his opponent was playing 4 colors and got color screwed game 1, and game 2 the Baron came for a visit.
Round 7 Simon carried a game 2 he thought he might lose because his opponent had an Advent of the Wurm token with Knightly Valor on it, and nothing in Simon’s deck can tangle with that and live. However, he kept his cool, realized that trample damage doesn’t go through if the attacking creature is actually dead, and Smited the beast.
At 12 years old and X-2, Simon started showing up on other people radar. The judge staff was clearly watching out for him. He got LSV to sign an Elvish Visionary (and, in honor of Mr. Vargas’s penchant for puns, we will forever refer to this card as “LSVisionary”), he got Tom Martell to sign a Boros Reckoner, and he talked with Brian Kibler again. Both LSV and Tom Martell looked over his deck (nobody liked the Mind Rot in it, otherwise all the feedback was thumbs-up), and Simon got great encouragement from all of them.
This is also where the hat comes in. Simon said to me that he was definitely keeping his hat on for the rest of the day, because the only two rounds he lost were the rounds where he didn’t wear his hat. This, apparently, is how lucky hats are born.
Round 8 was the aggro mirror, which Simon carried in game 1 thanks to Snare Squad’s interference in blocking, and game 2 was another visit from the Baron.
One more match! After a 1-2 start, Simon was one match away from making day 2 of his first GP! He was really excited about it, and very hopeful without being cocky.
Round 9 was really the highlight of the day. I was playing in a Standard side event at the time, and I missed the beginning of the match. I came over and saw Simon had superior board position, and it played out in his favor from there. Game 2 he kept a slightly sketchy hand with no white source in it. However, he did have a Mind Rot. Normally, not too impressive—but his opponent mulliganed to 5 (on the play, of course), which makes Mind Rot pretty much a bomb.
I pulled myself away from the match at this point to stop and talk to one of the judges, Arther Halavais, who I’ve been Twitter buddies with for a while but who I didn’t actually meet in person until Friday afternoon. Arthur had a free moment and I asked him if he knew who the youngest player ever to day 2 a Limited GP was. We both remembered there was a kid in Singapore who day 2’d a GP in the Bloodbraid Jund standard era who was probably younger than 12, but I didn’t know about Limited. Nor did Arthur, but he promised to check for me.
Here’s the part of the day that was the highlight. Arthur then told me that he and the other judges had kind of been keeping an eye on Simon for a while, and that, yes, his deck was good, but he was also playing really well—keeping calm when he got behind, making clean plays with very few mistakes. Most importantly, Arthur said he was also impressed by Simon’s demeanor, very polite and respectful. Now, maybe Arthur was just trying to make my day, but the day before Father’s Day, that’s about the best thing anyone can say to you—those of you who are parents understand.
We looked over, and Simon’s match was done. As expected, he had carried it. Simon said that one of his opponent’s friends was watching, and when Simon Mind Rotted his opponent, the friend rolled his eyes and turned away, signaling that is was pretty much over.
Holy cow! My 12 year old son had just made day 2 of a GP after starting 1-2! A 6-0 run is pretty amazing at a GP for anyone, much less a 12-year-old. As you might imagine, Simon was SUPER excited, and I was just as excited for him. I’ve never made day 2 at a GP, so it was quite an event for both of us. Simon told me the part of his deck that was his hardest set of decisions were mulligan decisions, mostly on colors. Obviously, he did that part of it well.
Day 2 was a very novel experience for Simon. He had never done a draft at competitive REL, much less professional. He doesn’t have a lot of experience drafting and had never done a timed draft before. However, this is where the Web coverage of the Pro Tour is a great thing—Simon had watched a couple of these drafts, so he knew how it worked. He also got a little drafting advice from the pros and Arthur, all of whom were enthusiastic in cheering for Simon after he made the second day. Simon was definitely nervous going in to the draft, but also excited for the opportunity. We spectators were not allowed to be too close to the draft, so I couldn’t get a very good picture of him in action, but I got this blurry one from a distance:
Unfortunately for Simon, no hat during the draft. He could have just turned it around, but chose to take it off instead. Anyway, here is the deck he registered:
Simon’s GP Houston Day 2 draft deck
He also had a Golgari Charm in the sideboard. I got to look over his deck after the draft, and my thoughts on it were that it was OK, maybe a little slow, but good overall card quality, though the mana might be a problem because he was so three-colored. However, he was very three-colored yesterday and it went fine, so maybe that would hold up.
Simon usually is OK with me watching him play, but today he preferred I didn’t, so I wandered off and tried to watch feature matches or guys from my local store, of which there were a at least three others who made day 2.
Round 1 went long. Simon won game 1 on the back of Necropolis Regent, lost a grindy game 2, then lost a grindy game 3 where he never drew a source of green mana and also never hit his third black for Regent.
Round 2 went very quickly. Simon didn’t draw any white in game 2, and didn’t draw any black in game 3. The match was over quickly, and we got a snack so Simon could unwind a little. We talked about plans for the day, and we determined that Simon had to win out to make top 64, so if he lost his next round he would drop so he could still make it to lacrosse camp in time.
The third round, unfortunately, didn’t go much better. Simon won game 1 very quickly as his opponent got stuck on three lands. Game 2 Simon again had color issues. Game 3 Simon lost when his opponent overloaded a Dynacharge for exactly lethal damage.
So, that was the end. Simon collected three packs for his troubles and we went home, and he geared up for lacrosse camp. Nothing like getting to batter someone with a titanium pole to vent any frustration.
Overall, the experience was absolutely fantastic. Simon was so excited to make day 2, and I was so proud of him.
One of the things that really made it great was how friendly and encouraging everyone was. Simon got to meet a bunch of pro players who were all very friendly and really gave him a lot of inspiration. Special shout outs to Tom Martell, Brian Kibler, and LSV for really taking the time out to look over Simon’s deck and give him advice to get him ready for day 2 and for all the encouragement. (Simon got a great high five from LSV after making it.) Also, thanks very much to Arthur Halavais for keeping an eye out for Simon and keeping him company after the last round while I was still in my side event.
I think it’s the best story you won’t see on the GP coverage site—but I may be more than a little biased. Happy Father’s day to me!